Boomkat Product Review:
‘Electroacoustic Works’ is an epic undertaking compiling Iannis Xenakis’ earliest works (Diamorphoses / Concret PH / Orient Occident / Bohor), through his classic period (Hibiki Hana-Ma / Mycenae Alpha / Polytope de Cluny / Persepolis / La Légende D’Eer) and onto late works (Taurhiphanie / Voyage Absolu Des Unari Vers Andromède / Gendy 3 / S.709), all newly mixed by longtime zeitkratzer sound engineer Martin Wurmnest and mastered by Rashad Becker, with a Booklet of English / German liner notes by Reinhold Friedl (zeitkratzer) and rare photos from the Xenakis archive.
As one of the most revered figures of the twentieth century avant-garde, and surely the only one to have studied with Messiaen and worked with Le Corbusier; Xenakis redrew the boundaries of sonic possibility with his pioneering, mathematically sound arrangements and brutalist electronic tonalities. By teaching/osmosis, his work has exerted just about as much influence on the avant-classical paradigms as the more untrained worlds of noise and DIY electronic experimentalism, with his anarchitextural approach to form and function breaking ground for everyone from Roland Kayn and John Zorn thru Hecker & Haswell to Lee Gamble and Rashad Becker (who did this remaster, naturally) in the contemporary field.
The first disc (early works) stakes out Xenakis’ peerless approach to new music between the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, back when he began to combine his musical studies under Messiaen with his background in architecture as an assistant to Le Corbusier, and the facilities of Paris’ GRM. What is perhaps most striking about these works is their clarity and spatial definition, which never feels as murky or even messy as much early electronics. With thanks to Rashad Becker’s remastering, everything from the alien dynamics of 1957’s ‘Diamorphoses’ to the shattered glass synthesis of ‘Concret PH’ (1958), thru the rowdy percussive ruptures of ‘Orient Occident’ (1961) and the almighty, roiling keen of his masterwork ‘Bohor’ (1962) sounds uncannily modern.
The second disc covers a golden patch between between 1969-1972, taking in the jaw-dropping shearing string dynamics and febrile rhythms of ‘Hibiki Hana-Ma’ (1969)’ to one of his all-time masterworks in 1972’s multimedia installation soundtrack ‘Polytope de Cluny’ with its shattered polymetric percussions, and the uncannily future-proofed play of chattering electronics, swooping subbass and cyclonic hornet-like swarms in ‘Mycenae Alpha’ (1978).
DIsc 3 features ‘Persepolis’ - Xenakis’ longest electroacoustic composition. Commissioned by the Persian Shah, the piece was part of a multimedia performance which premiered in 1971 in Shiraz-Persepolis as a performance including light-tracks, laser beams, groups of children walking around with torches and 59 loudspeakers to project the music in an open-air situation. It was recoreded on 8-track analogue tape in the Studio Acusti in Paris and released as a stereo reduction on vinyl in the famous Philips series “Prospective 21e Siècle” in 1972, adding the new subtitle “We bear the light of the earth”, his most hymnal title ever.
DIsc 4 spotlights 'La Légende D’Eer’ - was made in an impenetrable thicket of versions, with this one selected here from the 8-track-version that Xenakis himself presented at Darmstädter Ferienkurse in august 1978. It's the only original version of this composition and is presented here (mixed down to stereo by Martin Wurmnest who tried to preserve the spatial movements as perceptible as possible) for the very first time. La Légende d’Eer not only became a milestone of electroacoustic music but is also an important reference for noise and industrial musicians of the modern era.
The final disc ‘Late Works’ opens with 'Taurhiphanie' - a lurching synthetic experiment that disorientates the listener with pitch-f*cked wobbles and sheets of glassy drone - anyone into shepard tone business or Florian Hecker's synapse-tickling experiments really should spend some time with it. Fifteen minute epic 'Voyage Absolu Des Unari Vers Andromède' falls even further into the abys - Xenakis disrupts his tonal experimentation with near-rhythmic tides of low-end movement. These sounds are expanded into fractal mayhem on 'Gendy 3', with almost 20 minutes of synthesized chirps that flock into dread clouds of unsettling vibration. It's tempting to call it industrial - Xenakis's use of electronics seemingly nods to certain corners of the industrial spectrum - but none of these works ever fall into a pattern. Just as you think you've got them sussed, they veer into fresh sonic territory, guided by foghorn blasts. There's nothing else like it - it's as foundational as it is puzzling, rewarding, and completely enthralling.
Taken as a whole, this is music that still beggars belief 50 years later, a remarkable testament to the Xenakis vision and diligence during an era when it was markedly more difficult to create music with such a bewildering dynamic.